The Empathic Brain

January 12, 2013 |  by

That’s the title of an exciting new book by Christian Keysers. Keysers was part of a vanguard team studying mirror neurons at the University of Parma (where mirror neurons were discovered). Only 39, he’s now head of the Social Brain Lab of the Netherlands Institute for Neurosciences.

Keysers calls mirror neurons “shared circuits,” in that they share in the emotions, sensations and actions of others. The goal of Keysers’ lab? To understand the neural basis of empathy. He writes:

Emotions of other people can become part of us; they can become our emotions, almost as if what happens to others spills over to us.

Mirror neurons “mirror” the behavior and emotions of the people surrounding us.

Keysers says the mirror neurons of some monkeys are so good at sensing others’ behavior that the monkeys became virtually “telepathic.” Remember, Keysers is a real scientist, doing real experiments, looking at hard facts. And talking about telepathy.

Also quoted is neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran:

I predict that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology.

That’s a big statement. But think of it. An explanation—in hard science—for the conformity-inducing power of groups is a big deal.

There’s more, writes Keysers. Mirror neurons are “selective.” That means that just like individual tastes (I like cashmere, you like angora), mirror neurons can be more or less receptive to different stimuli. In other words, your mirror neurons can determine how receptive you are to a certain emotion, group or meme. And it raises the question: Could one’s receptivity to memes be quantified—and measured?

Stay tuned.




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